In stench there is a story.
A genuinely moving articulation of faith through virtual mediums. Hope dies in the vacuum of space and is found again through deep water, with horror stemming from the blood fuselage of sullen muscles stretched across the clockwork machinery of corporate empire; on the oceanic floor where my suns were drowned I emerge - a nü-man. I am a very smart bear now. I will see the sky.
The world of Stasis left a gash-wide imprint on me because like the dead genre that it is point’n’click needs a jolt, to be dragged across waves engines and into a space where flesh and interface meld into one - behold, my precious Bone Totem. The convergence point of adventure-play with a place vivid enough to make the trajectory of our clicks worth more than a mere curious inquiry of hidden nooks and crannies. My sea is no corporation, my sea will crush you. There can be no logical order of exploitation to the whims of the depth's currents therefore locating your story inside an environment whose hostility far surpasses any capital contempt, that will only deal in blood and iron as its sacred currencies; to make it through the day deeper truths need to be held - a belief in something other than broken ribs, powered by said-broken ribs. DEEPSEA15’s all rust and grime, a place for the true masochists, lovers of algaes and wire-grids alike, actively pressing down where it hurts and yet prodding at our insides with a great deal care - binding itself instead of shredding our characters, a slow-burn of cog-wheeled violence amidst stormy seas. Oil rig's always the play, because here it's the only play. Nobody wants to be down there yet we’re all exactly where we're meant to be - wound up in this great skeleton unfit for any sort of humane life, unable to function for long without our continued presence within itself. And in this mother of all contraptions “the only way out is through.”
The big question posed by Bone Totem's vast array of characters and computer terminals is as follows : Is survival even worth it in this world? Capital has become its own religion & theology, a literal promise of digital afterlife for the devout worker while their exploitation fuels the expansion of CAYNE Corporation and its Churches into further enslaving mankind. Liberation only exists in the glimpses of shadow organizations off-world whose motives may not even be all that benevolent and by the time the credits roll on the last act's torture porn, barely anyone is left alive to answer my questions. This is a story about what happens when you take the pay that's too good to pass and sink in the process anyway. In the derelict's underbelly Charlie, Mac and Moses make sickly sweet bed, a grieving couple and their teddy bear, each one pushed to go on by their faith in something larger than themselves - that could save them as much as it could swallow their body and soul whole. Mac is a true believer in Cayne's gospel, implanted with the technology that's supposed to transport his mind into the Nexus at the final hour; Charlie's the practical cynic, a clever and desperate engineer, while Moses sits in-between those two as Bone Totem's touch of uncanny valley genius : It's their dead daughter's animatronics bear, one infused with the artificial intelligence to match; a pure soul in the most profane body. The second stroke of ingenuity of the narrative lies in the use of each character's abilities throughout the game and the way they communicate with one another : Mac possesses the brute-strength to bend contraptions to his will while Charlie's the crafting expert who will make sparks out of the inert. Moses, due to its size and circuitry, finds wiggle room in ventilation shafts and back-panel motherboards to get its "humans" out of tight spots. But what binds this whole system together is the ability to AirDrop objects between the three of 'em in order to take advantage of their respective skills at any moment, swapping perspectives and squeezing the abstract bits out of gameplay, the actual pointing and clicking pushed to serve a constant state of fiddling and putting things together, connecting skin to metal and arteries towards their new orifices, making due of the broken state of it all just to get through the day in one piece. Shit’s a breeze for my monkey brain, as much as a slow, catastrophic systemic failure of corporate machinery can in any way be qualified as swift - spaces compressing and then stretching themselves, water-filled elevators in contrast to their air pockets, finding finality - always - in death puzzles whose fail-states splatter in grizzly 3D. Here violence is not so much a shock factor as it is the character-building exercise in which we partake with all its sloshing steel atrocity. Only the most broken and dysfunctional of families could get through this. But even then survival is not the point in Bone Totem. What sits at the heart of the game's troubled conscience is artifice and hesitation - how we may progressively find ourselves bound by the clauses of the new flesh. Everyone on DEEPSEA15 is kept on a loose leash, wanting out of the hurt that comes from being born in this putrid place called reality. And it's not happening. And it keeps happening. No one's got the answer - but we can't leave.
[This is a MULE Emergency Broadcast]
Towards the end of third chapter, Moses discovers that one of the trapped scientists who's been helping him through radio in exchange for his own freedom was nothing more than a brain in the proverbial jar, condemned to sink with the rest of the station. We enter a room and find the cable-crucified approximation of a circulatory system atop which sits what little remains of Faran, a consciousness unaware of their own predicament. Eyes in the dark. It's impossible for me not to think of my first steps back in PATHOS-II, finding the robot body of Carl Semken and him looking at me, believing, truly believing, that he was still human - and then unplugging the cord because the only way out is through. Bone Totem walks a lot like SOMA - threading a bleak and complex existential line - but what separates it from Frictional's work mirrors the gap in emotional fortitude between the original Blade Runner and 2049. The question that gets its hooks into me isn't whether Deckard is a replicant or not and, henceforth, if androids do indeed dream of electric sheeps but rather the turnstiles of such an existence, or in other words, what meaning do you ascribe to the wooden horse that K finds in the furnace? Knowing you are a byproduct possessing the ability - however life-like in its fakery - to feel things and coming back to DEEPSEA15 with that same line of questioning, from Moses to Faran, presents a difficulty...the horse could, in essence, mean nothing - in fact it does. So why the struggle? Moses is remarkable in his artificiality because it grants him the most human quality a robot could have : Delusion. Contrary to Faran who scorns his watery prison as a physical manifestation of Hell, Moses only perceives it through the rosy glass-eyed programming of a teddy bear who does not like to be wet - the lens of tales and arborescences. This world taken as a whole may well be humanity's future purgatory but Moses doesn't see it that way. How could he? Charlie and Mac may still survive. The memory of the little girl he played with remains. Reality as he perceives it is still magical, still to be thought of as something more than an oil spill even as he himself is nothing more than a facsimile. A faith brittler than bones is still worth carrying by souls untainted. And so as Moses leaves the room for the last time, swearing hope to his computer brethren, the once-human Faran asks :
"I...can never leave here. Can I?"
To which the plastic bear responds with one of the most heartbreaking lines of dialogue I’ve ever heard in a videogame :
"Yes, but it is still a story."
Moses will see the sun again. But even if he doesn’t, the only way out is through. There’s still life to be found under the water.

As flies to wanton boys we are to the gods, they kill us for their sport.
Soon the science will not only be able to slow down the ageing of the cells, soon the science will fix the cells to the state and so we will become eternal.
Only accidents, crimes, wars, will still kill us but unfortunately, crimes, wars, will multiply.
I love football.
Thank you.
- Eric Cantona, King Lear, Act IV Scene I

"Every great magic trick consists of three parts or acts."
Jumpman is the realest a gaming character's ever been. Feet, hop and time. One forward movement in space - or two, actually - pull(s) us back into the Kingdom, into its familiar rhythms and tunes ready to be upset by the variables of our inputs. It’s on.
"The first part is called "The Pledge". The magician shows you something ordinary: a deck of cards, a bird or a man. He shows you this object. Perhaps he asks you to inspect it to see if it is indeed real, unaltered, normal. But of course... it probably isn't."

So the very first thing I notice upon booting is the way Mario now enters a pipe, instead of reverting to a default pose he contextually transitions from a jump, ground-pound, run or even simple press of the down-arrow on your directional cross like the frames of a true hand-drawn, motion picture animated character; as the rush horizontally stuffs him into a tube, his cap remains suspended in midair for half-a-second, just enough time for us to notice and for him to grab it with one hand, finally penetrating deeper into the level. I use the word "penetration" here because I think it appropriately reflects the physical relationship the game wishes to establish at that moment between Mario and its environment; by so directly making a case of each entry and exit as cartoonish friction, Super Mario Bros. Wonder makes us notice, makes us remember what it felt like grabbing an old magazine on our way home from school, craving for this return to the digital world. This is a 2D-world given the scent of nostalgia and the depth of simulacrum.
"The second act is called "The Turn". The magician takes the ordinary something and makes it do something extraordinary. Now you're looking for the secret... but you won't find it, because of course you're not really looking. You don't really want to know."
These worlds are oases and therefore act as such. At their core hides a series of wonders for us to play through and into - onscreen fingers if you will, fiddling and remaking the very fabric of each level -, in doing so adding further splashes to the experience of interacting with this reactive plateau that isn't really one in the first place. The beautiful twist is that there is no twist - the oasis doesn't change, it fundamentally can't, but the space in which it occurs (its contextual aesthetic) is itself subject to change. Mario transforms into an elephant and suddenly flowers sprout anew in his wake. Collect some water, feed the earth. Collect another flower and this time the whole world finds a second life, rigidity now dictated by fluid motions. The box bends into a circle. Always, what's next. This distorsion of shape is the heartbeat of Super Mario Bros. Wonder because it is, in effect, a direct statement of power from the game to the player. This is what a wonder does. It's as if the levels themselves could now jump of their own accord. Wonder, wonderful.
"You want to be fooled. But you wouldn't clap yet. Because making something disappear isn't enough; you have to bring it back. That's why every magic trick has a third act, the hardest part, the part we call "The Prestige".
With Wonder I keep on circling around this thought that we've been participating in a wholesome fanfare, smearing us with coins and particles that leave little trace once the screen is shut. I don't doubt the soul-magic but its application, and so words like "joy" or "(re)invention" make a paranoid man outta me, make me feel like we're missing something amidst the obvious Nintendo wizardry that is at play here, trading-in the technicalities for visual spectacle and really is this Wonder any different than the bark of a trillion polygons rendered in open-world vanity. Worlds don’t have to react to me but I need to react to them. Wonder has a Spiderverse-sized problem - the second one - in the sense that its exhaustivity wears me thin with a certain excess of enthusiasm for the form. The sprite-like (near painterly) aspect of the presentation as Digital Foundry put it in their technical breakdown produces as many flourishes as it bloats out the possibility of any more complex game feel arising throughout the levels. First, every wonder interaction should come with a timer - or at the very least an incentive to urgency - that constrains the player into experiencing the "switch" as a proper play-capsule and second is the lack of punctuation in the placement of these events, less a suite spaced-out into crescendos that iterate upon what's come before than a supermarket stack of variations on the same exclamation mark. The platforming feels responsive, yes, bouncy like never before yet completely childish. This version of Mario is dedicated to the immediate response each press of a button must produce on screen, of which the movement system is a good example : spreading traversal options into badges limits both our range of expression and the level-design's complexity in ways that only become clear as the difficulty attempts to ramp up without ever truly peaking, precisely because you can only design so much around the limits of basically one extra-ability per-course, culminating in one of the most bog-standard incarnations of Bowser as a final boss yet in the series. This tale was also that of Breath of the Wild; craft alone cannot lend a strong sense of direction to the work, otherwise we end up with what amounts to an expensive technical demo - here, and time and again before this, sold to us as this expression of genuine videogame affection. So really, what are we talking about when we qualify Nintendo as one of the last bastions of true "play"? With every level we're flung into a new micro-dosed reality offering everything and nothing all at once. The projected value of imagination without practical gameplay applications of its aesthetic principle. Rainbow refreshes on stainless materials. And thus the Prestige is attained. These pixels bleed emotions, don't they?
Mario is magic. Always has, always will. But magic’s overrated anyway and the spell that binds us to the caster matters less in the end than knowing their hand was real in the first place. Super Mario Bros. Wonder feels wholly digital, like the type of image you could clip on an Instagram aesthetic feed to recall in ten years as a whole vibe that we got to collectively experience and then shuffle out of memory entirely. But the most frustrating aspect of it all is that Nintendo is so close to connecting the dots lyrically, the technological foundation is there, along with a troves of ideas and genuine artistic highs that would make this the kind of games I’d wished I played as a kid. At times the mind does wander, and you can see it all through the pastels. The bullrushes and the lollipop constellations. Fragments of true videogame. It's in the magma coastlines and the stone archways turning into blue hues of a dragon. A light-switch logic producing simple effects of relations between objects. Sometimes simple is best. Like pipework taking on a life of its own. That shit is so cool to me, but then it disappears, is never explored in a way that would allow their geometries to imprint themselves onto me past the next change of shape. The real trick was always the most straightforward one : you press a button and the wee-little guy jumps. What comes after that is pure, simple accessory to play. But it's what you do with that fact, how much you're willing to commit to it, that makes all the difference. Or in the words of Elpadaro F. Electronica Allah :

Gaming for virgins. Good times, kinda.

Like the mad century philosophers of yore, I gouge my eyes out playing Destiny, mouth agape, head dripping and drooling with futures baroque until my ass is on the floor. I’ve had a vision and the vision was videogame neoliberalism, perfected. Guardians make their own fate. We knew what we were getting into from the start yet we plunged nonetheless. This time, maybe, it will be different.
Two years ago, on the icy moon of Europa, Beyond Light orchestrated one of the greatest one-two punch a shooter had ever thrown my way; a game of musical chairs where the chairs are actual orbital shuttles sending you past the stratosphere and the penalty for failure was nuclear annihilation. Take my hand, let's walk out in space.
« La fontaine de jouvence. », Clovis said.
A year ago, Vow of the Disciple had perhaps the most haunting image I've ever seen in Destiny. And it's not even the best part of that raid. Not when you can practice bullet horticulture on the body of a fifteen feet-tall alien after he kicked us out of existence. Not after the Upended. Destiny, in a way, keeps getting smaller as it expands outside the confines of our own solar system - towards a place where the up is down, where dreams are flesh and the waking world becomes a foolish expanse. 60 frames per seconds of pure cornucopia.
Lightfall has for itself the Root of Nightmares raid. Vexcalibur. Some of the most broken, explosive meta-build combinations in the new Strand subclass, using its grapple as a means to punch dudes in the face or marrying its crowd-control venom with Osteo Striga’s submachinegun mania. It's always the same; shoot the orb, grab the buff, watch a million numbers leak through the cracks of the monitor. But what an orb this is. I haven’t even beaten the new raid’s first boss and I’m already sold, devoted almost. It’s a dude, big, Explicator of Planets and whatnot, dragging with its demise the obscure promise that as we move these celestial bodies around a dark planetarium their galactic configuration may actually change, a symmetry to match our damage phases and remake the universe in our image. The main goal of Root of Nightmares is for us to resurrect a famous god of pain just so that we can kill him all over again - its sarcophagus pointing skywards towards this Traveler we’ve called home for a decade and which now lies broken in the middle of our star map. At its best, when things click and lore makes dots connect, Destiny feels terribly simple - circle meeting triangles in our ironsight, obscurity followed by sudden light. A tree of silver wings bloomed, full of loot. My assault rifle explodes and it’s this explosion that invests me in history. A gun is a text is a person and each person is a revelation that happens through repeated touch, the forming of new patterns by building their perfect legend in our minds. That Destiny is so concerned with giving its guns personhood, through their use and the way each tend to inform and shape relationships inside the fiction, probably reflects its tendencies to imagine the feedback loop as something sacred - to grind is to reach God or as Brandon Taylor put it in a series of hilarious tweet about something entirely unrelated:
You can take the Skyfather out of heaven, but you can’t take the desire for a Skyfather out of man. 😤”
Y’all be giving Erasmus vibes every single day.
But it’s got me thinking; Destiny as an eternal vacation. Lightfall is far from the best Destiny has ever been in terms of its world feeling like a lived-in place by putting forth unique gameplay propositions (chasing an exotic “whisper” down platforming depths, ragged-riches or treasure of a Leviathan) but it is the most fun I’ve ever had with its gunplay; the build-crafting has been streamlined, dumb-downed even, and in exchange for complexity the moment-to-moment experience feels swifter, allowing for immediate self-expression and, by extension, an easier doorway into Destiny’s true endgame : Building the most fashionable killing machine this side of the Milky Way. But I digress. Now that we’ve entered the realm of absolute omniheroics, that excavated narrative threads are starting to pull together - awkwardly killing-off old characters like the A.I war machine Rasputin while graciously upscaling the larger scale of its kinaesthetics - and the promise of a star-wide power fantasy has essentially been fulfilled it’s easier to realize that Destiny has always been hammering the same point home: We will not go gently into that good night. Dream’s end. If you dig enough inside the Vexcalibur exotic quest unlocked post-campaign the game rewards us with a sight that just made smile; a full-3D visualization of the Veil, this expansion’s incomprehensible McGuffin. There’s been a lot of uproar around the nature of the object in the community but I, for one, loved it. It’s a cyclopean hourglass, mixed soil of Light and Dark containing an abstract representation of the memory of the universe that we find in the campaign by descending deep into the heart of a cybernetic city hidden behind Neptune, inhabited by the ghosts of people who’ve chosen to reside in the wood-wide web when the fighting started. And underneath it - sustaining this phantasm - is the Veil. A purple root of psychedelics - matter and its antithesis merged into one. Destiny’s all in there. This longest of summers is coming to a close and as we approach entropy’s center, the shapes begin to feel more familiar. A pyramid filled with horse figurines. Bones of a whale from an alien moon. An hourglass - a « Veil » under which we once slept - powering the galactic engine, paraphernalia sipping back out of the black hole. All this time sunk into a game who, at the end of the day, is interested in grass and trinklets. That’s where the prestige lies for Bungie. Bringing us back to Earth.
The best we can do is burn our way out of there.
[Killed by the Architects.]

Arrest of a stone Buddha lies.
It’s not immediately apparent nor is the revelation striking in nature but the lie or, rather, the absence of telling permeates each frame. Flair is the primary mode of conveyance here ; the charm of retro games meets the stylishness of a John Woo flick. Hitman is searching for an answer in 70s France. Take the dread of Slavic game-design and watch it morph into high-concept anime motions. You’re fast and lucky enough so you don’t plan your actions too far. You kill with one shot and you never miss. It’s the kind of nihilistic manifesto games have become so good at over the years, where killing turns into an operation of existential purge. What’s the point of moving forward when death is so clearly in sight ? We’ve all seen this story - this swan song – a million times. Virtual entrapments. This play, repeated in front of us, by us. In a sense, even before us. You know from minute one, nested in this “fausse” Notre-Dame with a gun to the priest’s temple, how it all ends. Killer is Dead.
But let’s rewind nonetheless. What is Arrest of a stone Buddha about ? Like I said, it’s explicitly about the back of the box : An assassin and a city and a question. There’s no point in really teasing it any further ; it’s the story of a man searching for meaning in-between the killings that punctuate his life. Though perhaps we can see it in reverse ; actually, let’s look at it this way. It’s the story of a man actively searching for meaning within the killings themselves. So every time his job’s done he sits on a bench with a friend, his contractor – his lover ? Lines are blurred anyway. And then comes a question. “When’s the next assignment ?” It’s a one-way conversation between the world and his shadow. ”Lanky got killed.” No response – none that matters anyway. He mutters a few words as Erik Satie‘s Gnossienne plays in the background. If it wasn’t evident enough beforehand, I’ll reiterate for good measure ; Arrest of a stone Buddha is not just moody, it’s bleak.
“Just find something okay ?“
”I will.“
Now you roam the streets from dusk till dawn. Light a cigarette on your way to the movies. Or scratch that, turn around and booze yourself into altering the very soundscape of the game in some Parisian cafe. It’s the other side of the experience : Call it daily-reality simulator. Shenmue impersonator. A performative exercice in living stuck inside a death loop. From the graveyard to the bar and back again, the only certainty is our forward movement in time. Somedays a storm, somedays a mere wandering. Until you reach the date that’s been circled in red above your bed. This 7th of November 1976. The day one chooses to die.
The body count of Buddha is thankfully ridiculous. Every gunfight acts as the missing link in a series of finales that keep on stacking upon one another. At times it’s exhausting, an impossible march where enemies keep pouring out of each side of the screen until we either make an escape or join the growing pile. But one does not rush to the finishing line here – the death drive must be consumed, soaked-in through accumulation. There’s no denying the scene is absurd, but contemplate it long enough and it forces a certain kind of empathy upon you. The relentlessness with which Buddha forces you to slog through murderous armies demands a pause, a constant inhabitance in this body of labour – it’s one kill to a thousand, all located at the source of your character. Breathe in, then dance. This is By Yeo at his best : Beauty by blunt force; a trauma that outlasts the bang of the iron. If Arrest of a stone Buddha was to be shrunk down to its most basic elements, it would be a matter of binaries. Left or Right. Whisky or murder. Which direction spares us a bullet and which one keeps the killer going for another day? Bullseye or bust. An affair of life and death in the plural – or rather of exquisite repetition, of withstanding this dying in service of something. I noted earlier that the gunfights of Arrest of a stone Buddha were a unique gesture of pedestrian violence ; looking back on it, I think a better term would be “limping”. Failure is inevitable, the game makes sure of that (the further you move through a shooting gallery, the more accurate the goons around you become and sometimes a cruel trick is pulled on you ; just as you’re about to walk out of the frame, you meet your fate at the end of a barrel summoned by off-screen depths). Weapons are made irrelevant by their empty magazines, so the only way to procure yourself another is to wrestle one away from your agressors. This in turn requires a closer approach, leaving you vulnerable to the pace of the game’s incessant happening. There is always something, both wonderfully intricate and brutally evident, going on in those exchanges of bullets – dodged shots followed by a collective charge, a scope adjusting its aim with your skull. Out of fire and out of time. The key here is to embrace how perpetual the collapse is in hindsight. You get good at it eventually, it’s still just a videogame after all. But the feeling never really goes away. Miss the coup de théâtre and another swiftly comes your way. Now your move friendo ; you have to, keep walking. Shooting. Doing. Something’s got to give, so even when it means nothing a choice must be made. Hell or high water.
Every assassination attempt begins with Buddha at a standstill. Tinted windows for a stray car. A restaurant table whose dishes are getting cold. The killer and the target. Hold [R] to aim your weapon ; press [X] to shoot – and then the music starts.
“I’ve got to get the hell out of here.“
In Arrest of a stone Buddha, every assassination attempt culminates in a single frame of grotesque still life. The pure and quiet spectacle of sidescrolling generation. Stop, start ; and suddenly, a wave.
A parking lot, overflowing.
Mobsters by the dozen, all converging
On this single point in time
And space, where you lie.
A forest shootout leaving
No trace.
“I have a train to take.“
To nowhere, in particular.
To a room with a view,
To a rooftop, another
Man is sitting at a bus stop with
Ten corpses down.
In the streets of Arrest of a stone Buddha, I always stroll with my hands in my pockets. It’s not really about the style, it’s performance. I am comfortably away from the simulacra but I wish to engage, to blend-in. At night, the edges of my screen become vectors of paranoïa ; silhouettes in trench coat walk past me quickly and I come to fear their passage. They’re just bots – pallid imitations of behaviour – but my violent strides have produced this strange overlapping motion where I am, simultaneously, above and beneath. My rampage invades every spaces of the city – bullet wishes against glass pedestrians. They share my proximity for a fleeting second before disappearing again, never interacting, never harming my little killer in any way. The greatest trick Arrest of a Stone Buddha pulls on the player is to switch perceptions into a set of compulsory habits, from one space to the other; what does it take to press the trigger ? Nothing more – and nothing less – than a corridor to dwell in the levels where I can properly identify and recognize better. A target that was never really there in the first place.
It's a story of the meaningless decisions that animate everyday life.
It's a tale about choosing to be someone else, even if it’s just for the time it takes to smoke a cigarette.
A lie on a respirator.
A fantasy fed one day at a time, until the date is reached. Until it’s impossible to go on anymore.
7th of November.
You’re alone in your room. I am alone in mine. You hold the first button to aim.
Then I press [X] to shoot.
Or maybe not. Maybe both decisions are taken at the same time.
Maybe in the end we keep on dancing.
In this life or the next.

Wolves come out at dusk to curse the rest of mankind. The fated prank is past, must return, will return the land to its proper state. A legend written out of habit. Link, Zelda and Ganon dropped-off in the wet remains of a dead MMO. Amygdalaes and termites fall through the sky, shadow bugs, of sort, whose tears I crave. Village tasks, wolven tasks. A cliché quest. Light to all.
Lonely fields, but not empty fields. There should be a thousand links but only I remain. Subservient to the game’ staccato logic. Buttons that push themselves. Defibrillated dungeons, castles that don’t wanna be alive anymore, glooming, shimmering, looking down on me. Places that exist as their most common denominator - sky city is a city in the sky. We’re never crashing down. High-definition lows followed by trombone highs when melody permits - sipping-in like Ross and Reznor got trapped beneath the map. Heroism absent from itself. Faded gold. Grandiose. Muted.
Twilight Princess is not the Zelda game we need but the one we deserve. Twisted women on our back with malformed bodies and shadow appendages arousing suspicion. Trust a teleporter to not shred me to bits. Use the tool and then discard the tool when pressure points stretch themselves far and thin into the horizon. Whistling-by. A horse that controls like a race car carries me towards the dark lord. Back in a castle that’s not even haunted anymore. Break the princess out of her stasis and save the day - Midna can’t stay. Fused shards on flat grass. Three people looking at each other on dried fantasy.
Neck mirrors. Neck snaps.
Twilight no more.

The first time you meet Nargacuga he prowls around waiting for someone to finally cut through the green. Unceremoniously you approach and the fight begins – as they all do – with a slap. In Nargacuga’s case it’s a wild swing of the tail, something so swift and fierce that there’s barely time to register the hitbox before you’re sent flying across a porcupine haze. As hunters, most of our encounters begin that way ; bloody tastes followed by revenge on a motive yet unknown, led by a species that just doesn’t care for our neat little preparations, a divorce perpetually in the making until you learn the patterns and the tells, even begin to dodge every move as if by second nature and emerge from the other side with a point of your own. The chicken-panther thingy becomes a simple matter of rehearsed inputs meant to maximize the harvest out of a pixel corpse; in this meat-grinding lesson Nargacuga is the impossible apex predator - a killing machine to make a bitch out of through the intimate language of portable wet-work. It’s just what we do, bleak and repetitive, strikingly animated, in the arena as in the jungle, trading blows for skeletons and every time you see them, and by that I mean truly perceive them on screen, with swords coming down and last-second realizations that this screaming charge can’t be avoided, even as you start to speedrun those hunts in search of G-Ranked material, assembling tails and bladders into the largest gunlance known to man, the monsters of Monster Hunter rarely cease to be just that. Their embodiment primes each one for mythologization, just short of being genuine paleontological wonders in fear of a reskin. They may be at the top of the food chain but you, you’re something else. You know them more perfectly than they ever could, down to the last inch. Such is the nature of the hunt ; to play Monster Hunter is to learn to love the things you kill until one day a Nargacuga comes your way.

It’s the little things seen in gameplay and heard throughout each encounter (Imagine a submarine on tribal alert) that have made Nargacuga into this force of nature we know today. The more you fight It, the more you accumulate a widening array of ideas about what the monster is, what its strengths and weaknesses are in relation to your respective ideas about buildup and play practices, followed by their subsequent deflation when finally faced with the harsh, epic game reality that is Freedom Unite. A muscle memory’s tested in reaction to signature moves, deadly mistakes and triumphant runs interwoven by the split-seconds where nothing special happens, dodge-rolls leading into character reassessments – and then all you have left is eyeing each other. "Look at us, in this videogame." A truck-sized feline fantasy. But like I said Nargacuga’s different – otherwise I wouldn’t be here making what shouldn’t be an especially hard case given its popularity among the fanbase. What I want to emphasize is how much Nargacuga always reminds you – me – that it’s just a game fiend, that whilst none of its particulars ever threaten to breach the other side every animation pushes you to imagine what could have been. Just one more slice into the cushion and I might be put in doubt. That’s what happens after ten years of fighting the same creature, from desperately trying to prolong an imaginary combo spewed-out of the two-buttons attack pipeline to grooving in and out of sync with the wealth of attacking options found in Iceborne’s emotionless wasteland, Nargacuga is everywhere, touches everything and embodies an uneven friction in Monster Hunter history that made the terse into an exchange. And it’s live. Your first monster is like your first Souls is like your first bike except Nargacuga wasn't my very first at all. Monster Hunter Tri's aquatic swamps and online tribulations came before - made for the better game - and 4 Ultimate would later have for itself the hint of story, a real sense of physical progression through the fiction and within the environments that no game in the series has been able to emulate since (one day, time permitting, I’ll profess my love for this silly little game on here). But in-between these respective milestones in a franchise that's always relied on prudent mutations lies Nargacuga – seeing it, facing it, is an instant reminder of the aesthetic possibilities of the franchise: if - and only if - I can beat this stretch of biology and live to tell the tale then who's to say of my chances in the wider world? You can kill the hunter but not the idea. Monster Hunter was always the product of unsavoury values towards animal life, rendered, sizzled-down to the lean purity of the hunt, that is until you realize that in order to craft the asset a kill must be rendered twice. Yes, there is death in this business of whaling but faith never wavers when the beast is so assuredly angry and determined in seeing your end. There are way harder monsters in Freedom Unite than Narcaguca - look no further than its rig cousin, Tigrex. There is, however, no monster that feels more like a monster to me regardless of the entry it inhabits. That’s a feat. My hunch for the longest time was that the series awkwardly sat between the "Catch'em all" fetish and FromSoft's reverence for the figure of the Minotaur - our nightmares were not cute enough to serve a virtual safari and lacked the mythological context to be examined under a narrative lens, but loved them we did, regardless. There's a certain beauty in that, seeing my relationship with Nargacuga as set. It's kill or be-killed all the way, or so it used to be because now I'm not so sure and a panther is never enough when one starts killing dragons by the dozens though it's often been the most charming argument of the earlier generations ; in Monster Hunter the grind works towards a de-escalation of the apocalypse - power not in service of entropy as seen in Dark Souls but of its reverse force, your Kushala Daoras and White Fatalises existing in the shape of playful, repeatable catastrophes for the player to engage (and defuse), even when, like in Dos, the tedium of survival heightened the stakes and - perhaps - made for a more syncretic representation of ecosystems. Monster Hunter is amniotic awesomeness and in this Nargacuga, I think, set the pace. A panther is never enough when eventually the players could have something like Zinogre in Portable 3rd or later Rise’s Magnamalo; these monsters function differently from - and in direct conversation with - Nargacuga, on par with design tendencies that reflect the franchise’s full-blown foray into exuberant, ultra-rich systems of fantasy dedicated to making the player feel like a boundless performer that could revel in the pile-on of quests and multiplayer incentives. In that sense, it’s a logical evolutionary step to grow-out some Oni fangs, defer the task to lightning itself - I mean, Teostra was blowing us helplessly in 2008, and dotted sparks do make for immediate visual responses. Still every time these monsters come onscreen, so full of polygons and visions, their theme songs screwed in my head, here revised, heightened by an orchestra maximal, I see “the weapon to surpass Metal Gear'' whereas I want to imagine an Anti-Nargacuga - no next-gen nor nostalgia but a secret, third thing. Maybe we got it with the monsters of Lordran and Boletaria - kinda, who knows - but Dark Souls’ cruelty is too entrenched, its jokes awfully repetitive and one-note for my taste, and hell am I terrible at using the wirebug in creative ways to transport myself inside these maps which require no footing. And maybe what we saw was always a byproduct of blurry reflections, yearning to turn the hunt into an indiscriminate affair of numbers as soon as possible. This would mean that there’s only ever one monster, fine-tuned, morphing with every evolution of the combat system towards this brave new World and its wider verticalities. Hack'n'slash a deeper body. I hate this idea. We've been doing the same thing for a long time so three cheers for Nargacuga. Into the slaughterhouse and away we go.
Feels good to put the old dog down, every now and then.

"A mask! A face! Does it need one? Does it not? To define. To focus. To exist"
The bugs of Hallownest are not really bugs. They may share some attributes but underneath each hood and every shell lies a purpose greater than the sum of its parts. The Maskmaker tells me to don this visage. A Collector hides in the Tower of Love, jealously hoarding grubs, while somewhere far beneath the earth, where the underland itself has grown stale, my knight came back from the grave. In this tale, we all have our part to play. The people of Hallownest, then, are archetypes with hopes and aspirations much like ours, pushed to toil even as their kingdom crumbles to dust, minds going with it, stuck in the vast network of formula. Pray, do scurry little one, in the nooks and crannies of this Wyrm's body ; through dream your desires become manifest, so do not hesitate to fashion yourself in the image of your father, the King.
Unfortunately for us in this instance, the King is dead. The King was always dead - that's when games come alive and we can only go full-circle from here ; having dragged ourselves out of the pit we drive back down, in remembrance of a time when Metroidvania meant something which is to say never, the term never meant anything - or, if anything, the meaning was ahistorical, misdirected, imprecise, it doesn't really matter anyway because the language of play was built on nostalgia and approximations and there was always a dark, wide gap separating us from old Samus. The sense that this world was not ours to tread, that this architecture belonged to "others", a hostile plane that could suddenly snarl with tendril-teeth, lost in this "labyrinthian airport" with a creep.
Hollow Knight is built on the absence of such emotion. Its insects have gained sentience, the ability to dream themselves and therefore communicate to us in a language devoid of any mystery, each of their purpose clear from the start and destined to unravel the deeper we venture towards the heart of Hallownest. The knight - our vessel - functions the other way ; below is where its loose focus begins to coalesce, below is the place where power starts to make sense for It on the level of lore - the accumulation of charms and trinkets aiding us in mending the broken order of the world. In other words, we make our own purpose in this web of reward nodes through swift exploration and world-building but mostly devour at the expense of everyone else. Reason matters little. Aren’t we the most honest of creatures, down here where everything tries to kill us ?
Interiority is what moves us through these cavernous tapestries as players compared to the rest of the bugs - the bubble that refuses to burst in Samus’ air-tight silence - but interiority is also what the knight fundamentally lacks as an operator so obviously designed with hallways in mind. Its reason for existing in the world never quite aligns with ours nor veers away from it, into violence, or hurt, or hypnosis, or whatever other reason one could find to not do exactly what the game demands from us. Interiority - or lack thereof - is interestingly what also makes the knight a prime candidate as protagonist ; in the story’s true ending - Godmaster notwithstanding -, it is revealed that our sibling vessel (the titular Hollow Knight) was tainted by an “idea instilled” - that an offspring, even one manufactured such as us, could take affection for its progenitor the King ; this half-filled promise in turn made the Hollow Knight into an impure seal for the god on which Hallownest was built, resulting in the progressive decay of every lifeforms within as they returned to their radiant, hiveminded state.
We, on the other hand, are one of the experiments who did not made it onto the King’s lap and as such harbour no fruitless desires - we’re a cavity without purpose, therefore being the only one able to fulfill the game’s. What TeamCherry seems suggest here is a form of cynical abandon; divest yourself from the dream and embrace the stakes for what they are - a challenge, a boss rush, an undeath. This world’s a little too paper-thin and we both know it - the only way to put an end to Hallownest’s endless wrestling with the cycles is to void one’s heart of any desires, to only go through compulsory motions and follow the nervous system towards its natural conclusion : The percentaged map.
Hollow Knight can’t help itself, though, because dream is the location - it always is - and as part of our attempt to acquire this platinum soul the game throws on us one penultimate challenge in the form of the White Palace, a paranoid delusion inside which the King hid himself to die at the moment of failure.
In there everything about Hollow Knight begins to make (late) sense ; instead of a classic “genre” piece, the White Palace unfolds as a series of encroaching platforming challenges designed with a deliciously cruel twist - whereas most other regions of the game emerged from the natural world, this vault was trapped and fabricated with one intention in mind : to kill the player as mercilessly as possible, squeezing it tight spots after tight spots, impaled on razor’s edge in accordance with the flight system, generous windows and wriggle-rooms now replaced with tortuous breathers beating me into submission. I couldn’t get enough of it. Five hours of Hollow Knight’s truest attempt at discouraging me from ever finishing it, and in doing so, finally, a crevice filled with the most videogame, with less-than-precious designer intentions finding parallels in what the space expresses as character, about one of its characters. My stakes, at last, aligned with the knight’s. But then you do find the King. Of course it’s dead. Surprise. Hallownest awaits, again. Down I went, and in this movement, I think, lies the beautiful exegesis of Hollow Knight :
It tells us exactly who we are, what we want and how it compels us to want so yet is incapable of offering its players a way out - or in - or put it another way, of looking through the world and seeing that maybe, even as the ground swallows up on itself and everything goes to shit, the dream is worth maintaining.
The Stone Sanctuary of Greenpath contains an epitaph that once singed to me in prose and poetry. Bullshit. I banished the ghost and claimed the Essence for myself.
The next time I visited it simply said :
A face carved from stone.

Go play Shin Megami Tensei III : Nocturne instead.
P.S : Miraidon is the best-looking legendary since Rayquaza.

The boy is innocent. The boy is cruel. The clock is ticking and we are moving ever backwards.
The more I play INSIDE the less I understand it. The journey remains the same but the drama, the order, the sequence of facts and events leading me towards this beach keeps shifting in my head. Forest. Factory. City. Center. Conspiracy. Factory. Forest. City. The pig?
The pig is the first time I sensed danger within the boy. So far violence had only come from one side – foreground pushing against background, my corner of the screen under constant assault by hostile forces. But then you get to a barn. You put shapes through the grinder and the game plays a joke on you by revealing that it was in fact, merely, hot air. Moving. But then you progress a little further and there’s holes in the dead. The pig runs ceaselessly after you until it can’t anymore and a thread is pulled. Now it’s barely alive but you need its frame to move forward, to take control of the others.
I recently played the game with my little brother who kept referring to them as “veggies” first, before they themselves become engines of control, from which point on it was “the hanged men”. By putting our collective bodies on the line we become a voice for the voiceless. A King of limbs that can barely moan may nonetheless surge and thrive.
You can never discount the pleasures of INSIDE. Of watching this little skeleton getting blown to bits by a soundwave, teleported to start when the camera's done dwelling on its physics, succeeding this time because we've been here before, many ways actually and none of this matters but the ragdolley motions of the boy display not just an urgency of flesh but also clear playfulness, his turns a little too high-heeled and televised to reflect their imparted violence - he puts on a hell of a show for someone who never talks, doesn't he ? That is not to say the boy is without words but his language is plain and practical, never crossing beyond what the game requires of him which is to say a few actionnables verbs of command. Run. Jump. Grab the box and then break the necks of a few employees as we crash through the ceiling of this life-sized diorama. Everyone of us, complicit in unassisted murder.
Limbo was a sham because it refused to say something of its greatest moment - the spider. To make a fairytale you need to recognize the taint that's shared the moment a story is put into the world. INSIDE has many legs - many "spider moments" - to pull us astray but it consciously decides to cast its support to the boy in all instances. That's not just a matter of gaze, it has to do with every facet of play here and if horror at the fate of this particular body was the sole point, I'd be displaced. The voyeurism of INSIDE is nearly wholesome - I wouldn't go as far as saying this story is a fairytale but this is not a test for societal collapse and these are not warning signs. No, INSIDE best functions as a dreamlike object, something you'd see between the trees in a half-dozed-off car, or could touch through the cold iron, or hear on a late night before the moon's signal is lost, forever. What's translated is often not what was actually received yet here we are, playing still.
Radio static just makes too much sense for us not to exploit. It’s a tool of calibration containing the possibility of sound, for it to be simultaneously produced and heard in order to make sense of the narrative. Distorted echoes become distinct, likewise the back-and-forth of frequencies allows us to reshape the puzzle into a humane form of communication – manufactured, tempting but unreliable. INSIDE rejects the appeal of the static even though its world is littered with remains from a radio era that demands we go back to the soil, find the collectibles, make the protagonists and ourselves whole again by unplugging the progression bar, halfway emptied – always waiting. Who wonders about the shape of infinity in the age of capital?
The trap was thinking revolt was ever an option when the first death occured, and then stayed onscreen for a few seconds too long as the boy gets dragged into darkness and then we reproduced the inputs with a slight variation and this time the boy stumbled and lived but would kill by accident later down the line and finally by necessity because there's only one of two way this dance can end.
What's fair in this gamble is that I was never under any illusion of life - illegitimate or otherwise - bubbling under the surface of INSIDE yet I still cared deeply - but for who or what ? I mean who else than me right ?
I like narratives of death and rejection in games because they allow us to make sense of our place inside and outside their ecosystem of immersion. You can never lose if the game itself is telling you to touch grass. A guilt-free form of autoscopy. What the game is about becomes less important than the gesture itself (to go against the grain) projecting value, maybe even morality, towards the onlooker by way of sensations at the tip of our fingers. I barely made the jump, swerved a bullet and just, just escaped the clutches of the superstructure. Still, I got to experience it all. Fuse-out and curtains.
What remains with INSIDE for me is a lingering sense of doubt, in the shape of a space where we can't actually delineate the strings from our unique first-person experience. I have so many doubts about the boy, about this world, about its very real absence of façade. Where even am I ? John Battle said it best a while ago :
I float all the way down there, most assuredly dead and if this is where I am to die, then, so be it. The game has shook me in so many ways that I feel so far from those woods, dogs and that warehouse… I’ve been taken so far down that I’ve entered the other side, a proverbial underworld. And then I move. And I’m not dead. And I did not drown, at least not completely.
Moreso now I can never drown.
And so the stage is set, and I am in the forest once again.
All inside the immortality machine.
Until I've gathered my thoughts on the subject enough to attach my own hyperlink to this.

The thirstiest fanfiction on the market.

Resident Evil 6 is the theater of goop.
Here be the sludge that stirs across the surface! Imagine not being able to tell the difference between tar and honey ?
"What's good for you is good for me."
This is not a rehabilitation letter. Six will be buried if necessary, never to be talked of again now that we've got another virus on our hand. New alphabet ; one Wesker for a Birkin. Turncoat Redfields, fake Adas but more importantly, hot people. People on topic, at the cutting edge of any given threat. Videogame protagonists for videogame times, with three fingers on the trigger while a glance back affords us a little breather. It's still our franchise, right sir ? Biohazard moves forward because Resident Evil never can.
Two things have been sitting at the back of my mind while playing this mess : On the one hand you have the release of Resident Evil 4's HD Project 1.0 version - a work of restoration so thorough that Jacob Geller already dedicated a whole video to it - and on the other you've got swirling reports of CAPCOM's very own attempt to resurrect the golden child once again by (among other things) drawing inspiration from the infamous 2003 castle demo. I'm excited. Curious! A little chained to the peerless promise of next-gen frights ; man with hook is the verb, an absurdly new one to wield in this here place and house. It's like we're circumventing the whole Village just to go back to the source material. Modernity is overrated anyway and I want my cookie moody instead of soaked in the era of greys and beiges - but what greys and beiges! See the thing about Resident Evil 4 is that I don't want to play it again. It's cliché to call something modern, especially within the context of a specular videogame canon, but Four is the Shit and everyone knows it. It's just that blatant. Now what we do with that notion is at our own discretion but the fact is this rift no one has been able to close ever since. Of course I'd wanna be back there, spoil the ancestors. Resident Evil is not "special". But we like it enough to have turned the monster into a cultural touchstone. I see the stone and it's oozing sludge. I touch it and the wet grips me. Let us all recess in this pandemic together. I have never been more invested in discovering the refreshed polygon count of a dog in my whole life.
Sometimes this craze - this hopelessness, really - pushes me to reevaluate things in a pseudo-scholarly gesture of boredom. My brain is inherently wired to go down rabbit-holes, draw cosmic lines of meaning between points of interests that don't even intersect at the most obscure of angles ; and sometimes the line leads me to take patience with a title and meet it on its own terms completely. Embrace the fire and awkwardly march towards my own doom. Welcome to Racoon City 6.
There's an ugliness at play that is key (I think) to share some sort of commonality with a game like Resident Evil 6. I don't mean basking in a rotten decor or giggling at the prospect of seeing the burning car rolling-on down the hill. This I don't care about - bad is important and insightful but ultimately I'm a sucker for beauty and grace. When I use the term "ugly" to describe Resident Evil 6 I mean it not in the aesthetic sense but as an "aesthetical marker", better yet an "aesthetical touchstone" of the material. Because the words that kept popping back in my head as I fucked around this globe of bioweapons were Michael Benjamin Bay. The glory of Bay's entire body of work has always lied in how ugly his film were. They're cynical, nihilistic, nothing-of-a-project ideas envisioned as pornographical and commercial in nature. Bay is a storyteller - a damn fine one at that - but he is also a fundamental nonbeliever. Because of the formless ideological void that shapes his stories some of his most potent visual ideas often don't mesh well with each other and end up resonating more strongly across separate films (this is why his disregard for bodily sanctity has never been more vibrant than in Transformers or how the upcoming dream that is Ambulance looks to be one of his most syncretic works yet). In the eyes of Bay, our earthly decor has long been an anti-matter for humans where only his gaze deems objects and shapes worthy of examination. And of course to him, serpentine camera motions and explosions are the only lifeforms worth maintaining in the end. An America for the people, without the people.
"No Hope Left" is the tagline of Resident Evil 6 through and through. Everything about it is guided by this thematic zeitgeist, pushing our heroes to go through the motions of a game that can't stop, won't stop. Ever. Six's economy is watered-down, uninterested in subtle mood swings. It's relentless. Always on a "have some more attitude" and unwilling to part with that drive for the sake of play conventions. Hence it's impossible to view it as a singular suite or some supersized block of ideas because to do so would require some type of body-beacon to illuminate the reason of its existence. A humane garble that would cut through the horde ; or put it another way, what Ed Smith once referred to as "the headshot". Resident Evil 6 is profoundly, explicitly anti-headshot, not just from a gameplay standpoint but also from an ideological perspective. This world is a hydra-state that solely follows the flow of bullets from one country to the next. Any attempt to make a narrative out of this conflict fails once you realize the game exists in this persistent state of in-medias res, the kind where every second is spent in disbelief of what the developers decided to throw at you. I play Resident Evil 6 and ask myself "How ?"
That is not the mark of mediocrity, that's just a dog chewing at its own leg and liking it.
But anyway, a world without people, without zombies, really, without monsters even - or without time to properly explore their effects on a consistent metagame. The lifeforms that CAPCOM deems worthy of exploration here are harder to identify than in any other title in the series. Leon's campaign, for example, does a decent job of setting up this framework of bravado - slipping and sliding and kicking interwoven by bouts of excellent QTE work - I'd hoped would be further expanded later only to be thrown off the deep end by Chris and the boys. Only Resident Evil 6 would be so foolish (so brave) as to orchestrate close-quarters rocket battles...I hate this campaign, because it's the one that gets the closest to this idea of "bad" I referred to earlier. Nothing can be gained from its furious exchanges, every encounter deserving of a crass and finicky dissection no one would walk away from with their sanity intact. Like drigo said to me one evening "It's impossible to tell whether or not they thought about [any given idea] for longer than 5 min." This is the theme of Resident Evil 6 more than anything else, and it occasionally leads to beautiful meanderings into what I call this theater of goop.
Goop is mush. It's fluid, indistinct but mostly is the state of games with an ambivalent bond to genre. Attachment to genre is the reason of Six's whole identity crisis because its understanding of the word is so gleefully malleable, as if 600 employees at CAPCOM deduced that ambiance only consisted of shadows on the wall and Nemesis could just be airdropped into warzones unscathed (as if this "space" had nothing to do with “those” bodies). Genre is when an object with this many ambitions is so aggressively "of the market" by way of gesturing to western audiences while imagining that it could be anything other than profoundly "Resident Evil". There's no easy answer here ; Six doesn't lend itself to any kind of catharsis, even ten years later, passionately playing it does not assuage the shortcomings of its mechanics/level-design in the face of king shit like Resident Evil 4 even as its highest highs invoke a sense of return to Spain - not by way of knife-play this time but through a kick-and-slide metagame that, if it could, would reject any notion of the necessity of firearms to fight bioterrorism - while its many artistic inconsistencies prevent me from loving it from afar. This theater has no sense of place tying the frame to some shared space with the player ; no stage upon which to string ourselves along or spectatorship at hand to reassure us, there's just the linear play, the consistency of our need for business in the face of explosions that run mud-caked in radioactive blacks and yellows. Resident Evil 6 can't be denied.
Leave exhausted or don't come at all.
In the absence of resolution, I'll make up my own lie.
I think I have an idea of what this game is and it all comes from a very specific point in Jake and Sherry's campaign I like to call the four doors of the Ustanak.
The four doors of the Ustanak are a set of precisely 4 (four!) metallic military-grade doors you need to open with your partner one after the other at the end of a chase with our resident Nemesis. Throughout Six doors are a huge component of the environment, whether bashed-through with a partner or careful half-opened in anticipation of the next threat. But this set is special. You go through each one of these thresholds - themselves divided in a two-part ritual, first unlocking the valve and then opening and closing the door behind us - only to find yourself in the presence of another one of Chekhov's gun - here taking the form of a huge drill-tractor which we promptly hijack in order to retaliate. What ensues is one of my favorite moments of the game as Jake and Sherry proceed to ram the Ustanak through each of the doors in reverse order all the way to mountain rock. Beyond the absolute insanity of making us go through four successive instances of Quick-time-event handywork as if drunk on its contraptions I think this sequence holds the key to understanding just how much the game wishes to be noticed and engaged with at the most basic level of play, repeating patterns to better nuke them out in front of our eyes. It’s not so much the individual chain of motions composing it that endeared me but rather their absurd repetition, the belief that this was what the game required at this point in time and space. Contrary to Bay this ugliness at work is exactly what draws the game away from cynicism and into unknown territories ; whereas he makes engines of fatigue that serve the disintegration of everything human in his frame, Resident Evil 6 is pushed forward by this notion that aesthetic destruction will make a live beast out of moments of desperation.
Leon and its companions are not actors of their own lives - and neither are we there - but Six offers the distant possibility that maybe, just maybe, if one keeps on kicking and sliding in this world where every door is screaming and death-drive feels indistinguishable from survival we could be heard someday, somehow.
Helluva manifesto this.

Down the sinews of memory lane again.
You have this spirit caught in a tree in the Whispering Hillock that utters : "A mare, wild and free...In meadow's pasture caught...Dark as a bottomless well...Black as the depths of night...Such a beast, no other." It's one of the best moments of the game. The whole quest smells like putrid devotion, with a love for language old and profane. Instances like these are when you truly understand how enamoured Wild Hunt is with speech and its intricacies, the way it can flood back and forth between rustic tongue twisters and theatricalities. This, to me, is the draw, at all times, in a game such as Wild Hunt.
But words are precious things and a story like this one always has too many of 'em. In the process of playing a videogame, of sitting at the desk for hours on end - consuming swathes of informations even in the most restrained of environments - we tend to fuse with it. A mouse movement becomes a handy one / You learn how to instinctively use the array of systems at your disposal. Ease of play ; you ride through the mechanics, swinging your sword aimlessly before picking up a thousand little materials that you can never grasp anyway. Then you press A to have your horse get you to the next dialogue. Imagine bearings of all places in a fantasy setting - but let's say for a second that it's the point, because it is effectively the point. Speeches of all shapes and sizes are Wild Hunt's way of framing the moments, big and small, that tend to make or break our experience. You don't necessarily remember the time you looted a Witcher's grave but you do remember setting up a stage play with your best friends at the end of the world. Speeches, short and long, are Wild Hunt's way of conveying theme. Of manifesting (and maybe even warping to the extent of our choices) the text. Wild Hunt, as it happens, has a lot of thoughts on human nature. On society. On being a father - every ten hours of gameplay or so.
But in these moments all I really care about is Johnny the Whiterun guard that told me about the arrow once lodged in his knee. What gets me thinking - what got all of us thinking in truth - is just how common of a name Johnny was in Northern Tamriel and how many arrows seemed to be flying, daddyless and unsupervised, around Skyrim's terrain.
This interaction is revelatory to me.
Because the more you play Wild Hunt and the more you realise that its open-world is full of Johnnys. Because what I need to know about Phillipe Strenger is not a façade reproduction of abuse or some kind of temporal puzzle that would allow me to solve the riddle of his humanity.
I don't care about the how, only the why. Why did you take up arms in war ? Why did you choose that woman ? Why did you no longer choose her ? Why why why. And in the absence of answers to this question, a movement then, something to bend me towards the videogame.
It's like, I could never trust someone whose favourite game is The Stanley Parable. It's not about whether The Stanley Parable is good or bad. It's about It being a game of hows and ways. Of metatext for the sake of the metatext - so just a text, then.
Wild Hunt is a game that asks the Skyrim soldier the circumstances of his crippled knee, but rarely why he wanted to venture the wildernesses in the first place. And I think that's preposterous.
One of my favorite lines in the Whispering Hillock goes as follows :
"It is done already...
It cannot be undone.
There are no roads...
To Aard Cerbin."
This is the pIace. Somewhere beneath the veneer. I wish we could go there. Leave the boring social apparatus to the kings and the elves and instead chase a wilder one. Be explorers, adventurers of strange forces beyond Geralt's comprehension. Actually, I'd just wish I could feel his body, his thoughts sometimes incorporated in play or dialogue variances. But I'm always away - away from men, from him - and decidedly following foot-tracks to learn the name of a killer when all I really needed to know was the shape and colour of their favourite dagger.

Goat Simulator reminds me of Dishonored in a way. The same directionless appeal. The same lack of backbone and tough decisions, both things that would to turn an experiment into something more expressive than the obvious appeal of "interactivity".